Review Summary: Hip-hopping jazz deviants BADBADNOTGOOD deliver a statement of iconoclastic proportions. What would Coletrane think...
For quite some time now there, unfortunately, haven’t been many big splashes in the jazz music pond worth noting. In fact, after the height of fusion’s popularity in the early to mid ‘70s, jazz started to fade in importance and esteem, save for prominent ‘70s and ‘80s artists like Pat Metheny, Weather Report, and Wynton Marsalis. Since smooth jazz is more commercial pop music than anything else, we’re left with many “true” jazz artists producing music that has flown pretty much under the radar over the last couple decades at least. Thank God, then, for a fine group of Canadian kids named BADBADNOTGOOD, a band that offers a fusion of hip-hop, jazz, and other influences that are hard to pin down, and to impressive effect.
The most impressive thing about BADBADNOTGOOD, other than their fine musicianship and groundbreaking fusion of hip-hop in a jazz context, is the fact that they’re only about as old as the 20 year old college kid who’s writing this review. No one over the age of 21 was involved in the playing, writing, or recording of this album. How many 20-year-olds do you know who can write a song as good as, say, “DMZ”, one of this album’s many original compositions? Most 20-something kids out there are probably partying their tails off and doing keg stands while plagiarizing the hell out of their term papers for the state colleges they attend while Matt Tavares, Chester Hansen, and Alex Sowinski were busy becoming the most buzzed about group in modern jazz, attracting the attention of prominent artists as diverse as Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins. They carry the “jazz musician” title as a varnish, and are imaginative hip-hoping experimentalists at heart who eschew tradition and embrace progression. On their second album, BBNG2, the band comes across as even more adept musicians, keen songwriters, and visionaries of a new era of jazz that has needed to take place for some time.
We begin with what might be the most unlikely jazz cover song anyone could ever think of: a cover of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Earl”. The bass is booming and percussive and the synths are thick, heavy and distorted, which is in stark contrast to Chester’s decision to use an acoustic upright bass for the recording as well as guest musician Leland Whitty’s saxophone solo. After Alex goes totally ape on his drum set near the song’s end, you have just been indoctrinated with BBNG’s mission statement: to rock the foundations of jazz. It’s amazing what this trio (quartet on this particular track) has accomplished with your basic fusion instrumentation - synth, bass, sax, and drums – to create one of the most unorthodox and irreverent pieces of music in jazz has ever seen. Another fine cover song is the album highlight “Bastard/Lemonade” medley, which has been played at BBNG’s live shows since the band’s early days, and it has morphed into an all-new, more aggressive beast. After Tyler’s doom-laden “Bastard” chords permeate all over the place, they build up into an epic climax of Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” that could conceivably get moshpits started if played for the right audience. Matt’s subsequent piano solo is absolutely destructive in its fury and passion, and is equally so with Alex’s drum freakout later on. So, BBNG managed to take a Gucci Mane song and turn it into an explosive jazz fusion orgy? Well played, sirs, well played.
While it is hard to top something as showstopping “Bastard/Lemonade”, some of the original material the band composed for this album is equally as worthy. Chester’s feature track, creatively titled “CHSTR”, features some interesting synth tones and nice bass solos, and while Chester is more adept at upright bass (sees his performance in “The Odd Future Sessions Part 2”) his performance on his five-string electric still satisfies. “Vices”, the first original song in the track list, showcases Alex’s considerable drumming abilities, but is an oddity because there is no improvisational soloing to be found, so, technically, it isn’t quite jazz. The same goes for “Rotten Decay” which, in my humble opinion, really needed it because all you’re offered is the same buildup and climax three times in a row with no solo, rendering the song a little redundant. “DMZ” may very well be the best out of all the originals with its nearly prog-rock song complexity, and during the solo section, everyone unites into one intense, unstoppable force. Unfortunately, there is one pesky fly in this ointment. Closing the album, after an awe-inspiring rendition of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”, we find ourselves in a situation where we’re being offered an odd cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “You Made Me Realise” that sounds totally tacked on as an afterthought and feels like a sudden bump on an otherwise smooth ride.
Other than two somewhat lackluster tracks and Leland Whitty’s admittedly underwhelming saxophone performance on two others, BBNG2 still brings the fire. It’s the sound of a group of young kids who are absolutely not tied down by the standards established by the last century of jazz music, in fact, they sound like they want to bring those standards to an end entirely. Honestly, they sound almost unaware of those standards to begin with. They may not be as tight or as technical as fellow modern fusion band Mouse on the Keys, but BBNG shows more dedication and fervor than even they do, which may give this band the edge in this competition. Their influence has yet to be seen, but ten years from now I’d like to see where jazz music has gone since the advent of BADBADNOTGOOD.